Interview: Zombies, Run! Improve your health, escape the zombies

Alex Walls
March 20, 2013

What Mobile had a chat with Adrian Hon, chief executive and co-founder of Six to Start, the studio behind Zombies, Run! the fitness game app which meshes running with a zombie apocalypse plot line and has clocked over 400,000 sales, about running from zombies and fan fiction

The game, currently £2.49, launched on iOS in February last year, on Android in June 2012 and is also available on Windows Phone.

Interspersing story dialogue with achievements, such as collecting water or medical supplies, and songs of your choice, users download the app, queue up a playlist and play a mission.  You complete missions by running, speeding up when zombies chase you, and (hopefully) making it through the shambling army of undead by, well, continuing to run.

First off, why zombies, apart from the obvious reason that they’re fairly awesome?

ZR Tutorial

Two reasons ‘ our co-creator and lead writer, Naomi Alderman, joined a running club and people were asked why they had joined; some people said they wanted to lose weight, some people wanted to get fit, and one woman said ‘I want to escape the zombie apocalypse.’

It’s not just because of that, it’s because, it actually makes sense within the game.  Zombies work very well for this sort of thing because in the game we want you to be running all the time.

It’s a very simple game, we don’t give you many instructions we don’t tell you to stop in 30 seconds and go left down this road; you’re meant to be more or less running continuously. It intersperses chases and instructions for your run.

If you wanted to be really simplistic [you could] say it’s a bit like an audio book, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Within the story, we have to come up with reasons why you’re running all the time – if you’re James Bond, yes he does run a lot but he also gets in a car. So the good thing about a zombie apocalypse as a fictional world is that, you can’t really use cars any more because they’re all bust and there’s no fuel left, you do need to go out running to get supplies and you do need to run away from zombies so even though it is a bit of a bandwagon thing, it actually suits what we’re trying to do very very well, probably better than anything else.

Do you class this as a game, or a fitness app, or both?

In the app store it’s in the health and fitness category but we call it a fitness game, so it’s a cross over [app], a bit like Wii fitness.

We wanted to make something that made running a lot more fun. There are a lot of exercise apps out there, some of them do have game components in them ‘ badges, levels, etc ‘ but they don’t actually make the act of running any more fun, you might get some points when you get back home but it doesn’t really help you much when you’re out there, and the fact is a lot of people, me included, a lot of the time, find running quite boring or  difficult  to do, and we just wanted to make it more interesting.

Have you had to create a whole world to contextualise the game?

Yes – like any kind of television show, like the Walking Dead, we have characters, we have episodes, we go to Season Two, but it’s not heavy, you don’t kind of think ‘Oh my god this is like homework’.

It’s fun, and it does the job of making people more motivated to find out what happens next in the story.  We’re the only running app which has fan fiction. A lot of fan fiction at that.  Based on characters and the world, thousands upon thousands of stories.

Lady GaGa

Is it true you’ve got a Lady GaGa counter?

People can optionally synchronise their runs with our website, so just in the same way you can do with other apps, if you set up an account on our website, then you can see a map of your run.

The great thing about our app is that we can do stuff that [other apps] can’t, they don’t know what’s happening on your run, what they know is you’ve just gone around the park. We know what music you’re listening to, so we can see how much faster you’re running, we can see when you got chased by zombies, so ‘You got chased by zombies by this tree and you sped up’, we have a lot more access to data than other people would.

The app’s quite expensive – why?

When it first came out it was £5.50, and now it’s been on half price sale for a while, but most of our sales have been at full price.

Zombie Run

There are a few reasons, one of them was that the app was originally funded on Kickstarter and the minimum pledge was $10 and we didn’t want to undercut that too much. We knew that there was a lot of demand.

The other reason though is that it costs a lot of money to make this, the entire company is just making one app.   Season Two has 45 actors in it, a lot of effort goes into it, because there’s a lot of content we need to make. But on the other hand, I remember when we first came out a lot of people were asking, ‘Well why isn’t it 99c, why isn’t it free?’ and the answer is, we don’t have a lot of competition at the moment. If there were a hundred apps like us out there, I don’t think we could charge $8 let alone $4, so we’re in an interesting position.

The reason why I think there aren’t 100 apps out there like what we make is because it’s actually really hard to do and I’m not just saying that because I think we’re amazing.  It’s because if you want to make Temple Run, or Angry Birds, I’m not saying that’s easy, but you need an artist and a developer. Whereas if you want to make Zombies, Run!, you need an artist and a developer, but [also] a writer and a sound engineer and actors and a website designer and all of this stuff and it’s there are far fewer companies that have that mix of skills.

So how’s it going then?

This is the first original thing we made ourselves.  Right now we have five developers working on it, originally we had one so it’s grown massively.

We’re over 400,000 sales, across iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and for both of our apps, Zombies, Run! and Zombies, Run 5Km, most of those sales, a slight majority of those sales, were at full price.  These were mostly in America, two thirds of sales were to the US, 10% to Canada, maybe 8% to Australia and 8% UK.

Zombies, Run_2

It’s bizarre actually because the game is as British as it gets, it has British actors, it’s set in Britain, it’s made by British developers, but when I talk to people in America, they say ‘Oh right where are you based, are you in New York?’  I think it’s because the game is very popular in the US and it feels like an American game.

The sales are still very solid, we’re  still hovering around the top 200, 300 grossing apps, and we are among the top five top grossing fitness apps in the world.  We should hit half a million sales by the summer.

And if people want more, there’s a zombtastic update, right?

In just under a month’s time ‘ April 16th, Zombies, Run 2 will be available on iOS and Android. It looks a lot better, a lot slicker, you can put down buildings, and upgrade them, and so on.  There are a lot more missions but the game play is pretty much the same  because that’s the one thing that people have told us works really well, so you’re not going to mess with something that works.

Would you expand to Zombies, Cycle! ?

A lot of people ask us about cycling and things like that. We don’t really have any plans for the different kinds of sports.

From a business point of view, the simple fact is that the people who cycle will run so we’d be keen on seeing how we can expand our audience by covering more stuff not less stuff and that’s going to happen this year.  Zombies, Run! is a very good app about running, you can use it walking also but it’s designed for running and we want to see what else we can do around the larger fitness area.

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